News updates

It's been a busy two years, so much so we've neglected to post updates here.

Overland Expo, our do-it-yourself-adventure travel event, added a second show in North Carolina this past October. It was a fantastic success. After the event in Asheville, we took some time to explore the Outer Banks and learn to flyfish in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Meanwhile Jonathan finished up work as the new co-author of the seminal Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide, the most respected manual for global exploration by self-suffient means. Tom Sheppard is a legend and a gentleman, and we have enjoyed working with him immensely. Our ExploringOverland.com has become the Americas distributor for the book, which is now shipping.

And we spent an amazing, expected month this past February driving from Ushuaia, Argentina, to Arequipa, Perú. We'll release a story on the trip in the upcoming Overland Sourcebook: Your guide to adventure.

Update: We've released a new story about the trip on ExploringOverland.com/explore

New video prepared for cultural conservation



On November 7 - 8, 2013, the South Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO) hosted the first annual Maasai Cultural Festival at the historic Olegorsaille site in southern Kenya. Hundreds of Maa-speaking people, dignitaries, and politicians from around Kenya attended, shared ideas for how to ensure their cultural future, and to commit to a common festival every year to celebrate, conserve, and share their unique culture. We provided donated photography and videography for the project through our charity, ConserVentures.

Portfolio

Photography

To view / download the Egypt portfolio PDF, click 

here

.

To view / download the shield portfolio PDF, click 

here

.

Video

Books

We have written many natural history and outdoor adventure travel books together, as well as several under their our own names.

Our books are very special to us, especially our nature books, because each one represents a real part of us—a passion for a place, for wild things, for wildness. The creative process for writing a book is the same as that for a craft such as creating jewelry, working with leather, or even cooking—it is a sum of many parts, carefully wrought, over time, into a final work to be shared.

All of our nature books combine our writing and artistic skills, and most of them drew upon Roseann's daily

nature journals

. We each write separate chapters, or we alternate writing sections or sidebars. Jonathan is a wonderful scientific illustrator, and Roseann field sketches. Below are some of our nature books, and reviews from fellow naturalists, authors, and media. We've also added a few scans of almanac pages, and click here to hear a reading by Roseann for a radio program in Tucson, of the introduction to the month of May.

"

An exquisite guide book for what to look for in this intriguing area." - Jim Harrison

"This book is vibrant with fresh insights into a landscape that many of us barely know but already love." - Gary Paul  Nabhan 

"A reference guide both scientifically accurate and immediately understandable . . . a welcome addition to all bookshelves and backpacks." - Tucson Weekly

"The Hansons analyze, categorize, and bring to life every month of the year." - Tucson Citizen

"A valuable reference tool for both casual and detailed scientific inquiry." - Desert Leaf

"An abundance of information in short and sprightly bites, adding up to a definitive guide." - Santa Cruz Valley Sun

"Someone recommended this book to me when I first moved to Tucson after living 'up north' all my life. I had relocated to Arizona for a job and was in somewhat of a state of culture shock at the lack of green grass, no four seasons, etc. This book was a real god-send for me. It breaks the year into 12 months and describes what is happening in the environment in terms of climate, wildlife, plant life, and the constellations. It is filled with fun-facts and things to do and watch for, so adults and children alike will find this book fun and interesting to read. It is fascinating learning about the uniqueness of the Sonoran desert and it made me really appreciate how incredible and diverse it really is! I now recommend this book to everyone (native or newcomer) and buy it regularly as a 'welcome' gift to my colleagues that relocate here from other parts of the country. I highly recommend it." - B. Gores, Amazon.com review

"To adequately describe a place like the San Pedro River, if such a complex and fascinating place can ever be adequately described, one must know it like an old friend. To reach that level of familiarity, one has to have spent countless hours with the place, gaining an intimate knowledge of the multitudes of nuances and wonders to which the casual visitor will be oblivious.

If a person gains such a level of understanding of a great natural area, and if that person happens to be an accomplished writer, a worthwhile and entertaining book may be the result, if we, the readers, are lucky. Fortunately, that is precisely what has happened in the case of the book, The San Pedro River, by Roseann Hanson.

Few areas in our country are more biologically rich than the San Pedro River. This small river and the riparian forest that surrounds it are home to more species of wild animals than virtually any other area of equal size on the North American Continent. Nearly 400 species of birds have been seen there. The San Pedro was named one of the Last Great Places in the Northern Hemisphere by the Nature Conservancy. Having been there, I would not hesitate to drive thousands of miles to walk its banks again.

Ms. Hanson knows the San Pedro River from having roamed its forests over much of her life. Too, she is an alert observer and an excellent writer with a deep understanding of people and wildlife, and a real gift for description. Her rendition of the call of a yellow-billed cuckoo was so well done that I instantly recognized the bird before reading its name later in the text. I could hear the call; it took me back to the West Virginia Appalachians where I grew up, and to the haunting song of what we then called the rain crow.

If you have any interest in birding, in wildlife, in ecology, in the Southwest, in the preservation of certain of our most precious natural areas, or in the San Pedro River itself, or if you simply have a desire to sit down and read something that can transport you to an incredibly interesting outdoor area, buy at least two copies of this book. You'll want to share it with friends, and you won't want to be without a copy yourself." - Amazon.com review

In September 2013 we completed a 112-page photographic record of the first authentic Maasai war shield making in some 50 years. The artisan project took place in Kenya's South Rift Valley in October 2012, and we took thousands of photographs over a week period. We printed 125 copies of these books for the community and for numerous museums and cultural institutions, including the first Maasai Cultural Heritage Center. For more information please see

ConserVentures.org/done

* * * *

Full Bibliography

Books co-authored by Roseann & Jonathan:

Southern Arizona Nature Almanac

(University of Arizona Press, 2001; reprint of original Pruett Publishing, 1996)

Basic Essentials: Animal Tracking

(Globe Pequot Books, 2000)

Backroad Adventuring in Your Sport Utility Vehicle

(McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mountain Press, 1998)

50 Common Reptiles and Amphibians of the Southwest

(Southwest Parks & Monuments Association, 1997) — Winner, 1997 Award for Interpretive Excellence, National Park Service

Ragged Mountain Guide to Outdoor Sports

(McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mountain Press, 1997) —  Winner, 1997 National Outdoor Book Award, Instructional

National Park Tours of the Southwest

(Southwest Parks and Monuments Association)

Desert Dogs

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1996)

Discovering the Desert Museum and the Sonoran Desert Region

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1996)

Contributors:

Natural History of the Sonoran Desert

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, 1999)

Edited:

Essential Sea Kayaking

(Ragged Mountain Press, 2000)

Amazing Arthropods

(ASDM Press, 1997)

The Nature of Arizona

(Waterford Press, 1996)

Whole Paddler's Catalog

(Ragged Mountain Press, 1997)

Books by Jonathan Hanson:

There's a Bobcat in My Backyard! A Guide to Living with and Enjoying Desert Wildlife

(Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and University of Arizona Press, 2004)

Outside's Great Destinations of the World: Sea Kayaking

(WW Norton, New York, 2000) - finalist, 2001 Banff Mountain Book Festival Best Adventure Writing Award

Essential Sea Kayaking

(Lyons Press, New York, 1999)

Sea Kayak Touring

(McGraw-Hill's Ragged Mt. Press, 1998)

Basic Essentials Guide to Outdoor Photography

(Globe Pequot Books, 1999)

Magazines:

Overland Journal - co-founder and executive editor, 2007 - 2011

Arizona Highways

Audubon

Bugle (news, conservation)

Diversions

Outside - (

contributor - gear reviews, travel)

Global Adventure

National Geographic Adventure

Nature Conservancy

Sea Kayaker (features - gear reviews)

Sunset (travel)

Books & Publications by Roseann Hanson:

San Pedro River - A Discovery Guide

(University of Arizona Press, 2001) by Roseann Hanson

Editorial & Advertising Photography 

Magazines:

Arizona Highways

Audubon

Backpacker

Outside

Sports Afield

Sunset

Newspapers:

Tucson Citizen

Editing:

Biological Diversity of the Peloncillo Mountains

- science report, 300 pp., for World Wildlife Fund

Extensive experience editing and writing in the non-profit and small business environment: annual reports, grant writing, appeal letters, brochures, and logos. 

Maasai shield book completed

We have finalized the print and digital versions of a 112-page book detailing the work of the October 2012 shield-building workshop in southern Kenya. This book is the final visual product we have created for the Maasai community that initiated the cultural conservation program. We are printing 125 copies and are delivering them to the Maasai in November 2013. Please see our notification on the ConserVentures website for more images and ordering information. ConserVentures.org/done

Production finished on new Overland Expo video


Overland Expo 2014 — What do you dream? from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

We're really pleased with the results of our new promotional video for Overland Expo. We developed the storyline idea over a wonderful dinner at Bluefin in Tucson. Roseann did the production on Final Cut Pro on our new iMac, and the music is from a talented composer, Dan Phillipson.

Much of the film footage was shot by Jonathan, including the aerials in Arizona. The drone and GoPro combination worked beautifully to capture the storyline at Grand Canyon. You can follow some of our practice footage below.

We'll be taking the drone and a new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition to East Africa in November to get some footage of wildlife and landscape for a new video project. Stay tuned.


Ravenrock fly-by from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

We've been wanting to do some aerial footage to augment our video capabilities, and decided to buy a Phantom quadcopter, which carries a GoPro HD video camera. Given my total lack of video-game experience, I had to start from scratch with the remote-control console, and accomplished several spectacular upside-down landings. But I'm improving, and got a nice fly-by clip of our place.

A lesson in making Sonoran flan, from a master




After working in Sonora, Mexico's remote Sierra Aconchi for four days on a biological survey, we decided to spend a night at La Posada del Río in Banámichi, a picturesque colonial town along the Río Sonora. Lovingly restored but decorated in bright modern colors, with a tropical plant-filled courtyard  and antiques from around the world, it is truly a treasure. But the real treasure is the staff: friendly and helpful, everyone we met made us feel like we were guests in a home rather than a hotel. Chuyita Ruiz is the cook, and she prepared delicious Sonoran specialties such as tortilla soup, carne asada, machaca and eggs, and flan chiltepín. The latter, a classic Spanish custard but spiced with locally grown wild chiles, was out of this world, and we expressed our opinion vociferously. The next morning, Chuyita invited us to the kitchen for an impromptu lesson. Experiences like this are why we love to travel.


To make the caramel, add 1 cup sugar to heavy pan and stir constantly over medium-high heat.



The sugar starts to melt and caramelize. Keep stirring so it does not burn.


Continue stirring until rich, dark caramel-brown.


Carefully pour the hot caramel into the tin mould, swirling to coat the whole inside. Careful, the molten sugar sticks and burns skin very badly (notice how Chuyita is holding the tin as she swirls it, keeping her hands well away from any drips). The mould is a Christmas cookie tin with a lid.


Prepared mould, set to cool while the batter is made.


Mix the batter in a blender: 1 can evaporated milk, 1 small can sweetened condensed milk, 8 oz. cream, 4 eggs, 1 t. vanilla. Add flavoring or not. Chuyita made one with chiltepines (very hot wild chiles, a specialty of the Río Sonora region) about 10 crushed finely; or a tablespoon of instant coffee. (If you prefer not to used canned milks, you can use whole milk and eggs: Add 2 cups milk and salt to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring milk to a brief simmer. Do not let the milk come to a boil. Remove from heat. In a mixing bowl combine 6 eggs, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla and beat well, until light and foamy. Add milk to the egg mixture, whisk continually.)


Pour the batter on top of the caramel.


Place the lidded tin in a simmering water bath.


Cook in the water bath for 45 minutes.


Fresh from the water bath. Let cool a bit before inverting.


Place a pie plate over the tin and invert.


Voilá—the inverted flan with the caramel coating on top. A flan chiltepín "muy rica," courtesy Chuyita Ruiz and La Posada del Río Hotel, Banámichi, Sonora, Mexico.

New video: Maasai shield project


Blood & Leather: Re-creating the Maasai war shield in 2012 from ConserVentures on Vimeo.


This video documents the first making of authentic Maasai war shields in 50 years (there is also a Maa language voiceover version here, vimeo.com/70596349). In October 2012 Jonathan and I volunteered as photographers and videographers, producing the video for the community; funding was provided by the generous donors of our charity, ConserVentures

The project sprang from within the Okiramatian community of southern Kenya, and is a global collaboration. The Maasai people of the region, through SORALO (South Rift Association of Land Owners), are building a natural and cultural heritage conservation program with funding and assistance from individuals, businesses, and non-governmental organizations in Kenya, North America, and Europe. The shield workshop featured in this video is one of several cultural preservation projects in this Maasai renaissance. By recording the knowledge of the elders, the goal is to inspire the next generations to retain and rekindle pride through cultural knowledge.
We are also producing a 115-page book and posters to return to the community for their November 2013 Maasai Cultural Heritage Festival. Just now finalizing the materials, after having to re-do the videos when we had trouble securing use rights for the original music we had wanted to use. But we love the new version—a big "thank you" goes out to Steve Amis and Marc Johnston, who donated the use of their gorgeous music from the documentary "Through Maasailand,"and to the Environmental Club and Maasai Music Project, of Cincinnati's Westlake Schools, a kid-to-kid collaboration featuring youth from the Olkiramatian community where the shield project took place.

Sierra Aconchi Expedition, Sonora, Mex., July 2013

Spent the last three days in Sonora, Mex., backcountry. Nine miles up 2500 feet--low and slow. Working on a biological survey with Sky Island Alliance.Our camp in a small meadow next to a sycamore-lines creek. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar camp setup. John Palting's JK working hard. John is an entomologist and spends all night with lights collecting species-- a number of them new to science. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar off-highway trailer.A few of the species collected on this trip. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliancePhotographing a tiger rattlesnake. Beautiful.
Tiger rattlesnake discovered on the first evening next to our dining area. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceJonathan staking out a Sinaloan Wren nest to get some awesome video of nest construction and beautiful song. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceHow to put a lizard to sleep: tummy rubs. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceWe really like our new #Frontrunner aluminum and stainless table, which mounts under the overhang of the Four Wheel Camper. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceThe Frontrunner table slides mounted under the Four Wheel Camper overhang.Mud turtle. Could be undescribed subspecies. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliance
Tiger beetle. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceOut of the backcountry, spending July 4 at La Posada del Rio in Banamichi before heading back tomorrow. Lovely restored colonial style hotel.Courtyard detail, Hotel Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiDoor detail at La Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiLooking at the Sierra Aconchi from Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoBanamichi, Sonora, Mexico.
Old door, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoOld colonial hacienda "zaguan" entrance, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoLa Posada del Rio courtyard at night.Truck art. Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoChuyita, the cook, gave us a lesson in making flan; open photos to read directions in the photo descriptions.Lesson in making flan
We spent four days in the Sonoran backcountry with Sky Island Alliance's MABA Expedition team (Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment) cataloguing insects, mammals, herpetofauna, birds, and plants. After four days in the field we headed to the colonial town of Banamichi along the Rio Sonora and stayed a night at La Posada del Rio, a restored hacienda along the plaza. It was a great combination of rugged backcountry exploration, camping, work, and then fantastic cultural experiences before heading home.

Easter 2013 exploration - Willow Springs Ranch, AZ

Sonoran Desert spring butterfly hilltoppingpoppiesDesert ChicoryWillow Springs Tortolita Mts campWillow Springs Ranch Catalina MtsSpring emerging tortoise
A group of friends gathered in the Sonoran Desert over Easter weekend 2013 to celebrate a 40th birthday. The company, food, and chocolate cake were outstanding. The weather was perfect, and to our delight we also were surrounded by beautiful desert wildflowers, found a desert tortoise just emerging from its burrow, and climbed a hill to find a furious flurry of hundreds of spring butterflies "hilltopping."

Hilltopping is mate-locating behavior. Males compete for the best location on the highest hills, patrolling furiously, trying to find the few females amidst a sea of males. Theory is that the "top" males that can ascend the hill and hold the best territory make the best mates.

We observed black swallowtails, desert orange-tips, Sara orange-tips, possible Texas crescents, and perhaps 4 other species.

The experience was pure magic—our blood pressure plummeted and we sat, entranced, surrounded by an aerial dance, exclaiming with delight like children at a circus.

Enjoy a short video here:



Sonoran Desert spring butterfly hilltopping from ConserVentures on Vimeo.

BGAN review turns into real-life test

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17-capsized7b17-capsized8

Lost at Sea, a set on Flickr.

When we took an OCENS BGAN satellite communications kit to a remote beach in Mexico where we planned to celebrate the New Year with friends, we expected to have fun testing it by checking email and news, and maybe making a few phone calls to friends to evaluate the ease of use and reception.

As it turned out, the unit had to prove its value in much more tragic circumstances.

If you’re not yet familiar with the concept, BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network; just say “beegan”) allows both data and telephone communication from virtually anywhere on earth, via a compact portable antenna that links with one of four geosynchronous equatorial-orbit satellites. Roseann and I wanted a system that would allow us to send and receive email, post images and articles on the Web, and make critical telephone calls anywhere we parked the camper. BGAN technology now makes doing so easy and efficient (if not yet exactly cheap) using one’s laptop computer, which communicates with and through the antenna via either a cable or wi-fi connection to access and send data at up to 464 kbps. A separate telephone receiver can be used with the antenna on its own if you don’t need data service (although it will send and receive SMS messages).

We’ve been working with OCENS (“oceans,” for Ocean and Coastal Environmental Sensing) for over a year now—they sponsored the communications area at the 2012 Overland Expo. The company is a comprehensive resource for satellite communication systems, and can equip travelers, explorers, and scientists with BGAN kits, satellite telephones, and other types of equipment and software, either on a purchase or rental basis. Matt at OCENS sent us the latest Hughes 9202 terminal—the smallest Class 2 terminal on the market at barely over eight inches square—along with a Thrane and Thrane Explorer handset. The kit, with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, comes tidily packaged in a Pelican 1450 case. A complete set of instructions for connecting to the Inmarsat satellite system comprises a single laminated card.

Our first morning on the beach in Mexico we made coffee and wandered about catching up with people we hadn’t seen in a long time. There was the usual round of campsite tours as we checked out who’d done what to their Four Wheel Campers or Volkswagen Westfalias or OzTents or FlipPacs. I took some video with the Canon 5D MkII, then moved down to the water’s edge to get some background footage of tidepools and birds. The water was glassy silver; barely a swell tumbled home on the gravel. Brown pelicans skimmed past just millimeters from the surface, defying physics. I heard the sound of an outboard motor, and saw two fishermen heading into the cove, so I set up the camera and got a shot of them traversing the frame. As the camera rolled I looked askance at the boat—a 12-foot, outboard-powered aluminum craft, painted camouflage, that would have been fine on a bass lake but seemed marginal for the Sea of Cortez even in calm weather. The men were obviously weekend sport fishermen; they carried what appeared to be light spinning gear. The two made a few casts in the cove, then motored off to the north.

The afternoon turned windy, as it usually does in winter in the Sea of Cortez, and by dusk a sizable surf was pounding the gravel beach in front of our truck, and whitecaps showed out in the open water. But early the next morning it was calm again when we heard another outboard, and saw three men dressed in foul-weather gear motor up to our beach in a panga—the sturdy and seaworthy fiberglass boat used for decades by Mexican fishermen. Behind the panga they towed a camouflage-painted aluminum boat, which, it developed as we talked with them, they’d found capsized, barely afloat—and empty except for an outboard motor and two fishing rods.

The story continues here: http://www.overlandexpo.com/overland-tech-travel/2013/1/5/bgan-review-turns-into-a-real-life-test.html

Blood & Leather Project completed

History records that rapacious, musket-armed Arab slave caravans of the 18th and 19th centuries avoided transiting what is now central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania—it just wasn’t worth risking the wrath of the belligerent spear-wielding Maasai who dominated the region. Early European explorers as well dreaded the sight of a line of colorful leaf-shaped shields appearing on a hilltop, and took roundabout routes into the interior. Even the mighty British Empire never directly confronted the Maasai militarily, and relied instead on political sleight of hand to squeeze the tribe out of its best grazing lands once the area was deemed a protectorate.

While the Maasai no longer range and raid at will over the East African landscape, they have continued to fight to retain their identity as a tribe and culture, picking and choosing which bits of the modern world they wish to adapt. Thus a red-robed and sandaled herdsman leaning on a spear in the South Rift is quite likely to be chatting in Maa on a cell phone, and a smartly-dressed businessman in Nairobi might go home for the weekend to a hut surrounded by a thorn boma that keeps lions out of the livestock.

But one icon of Maasai history—those tall, intricately decorated rawhide shields, so universally recognizable that one features centrally on Kenya’s national flag—seemed lost forever, save as dusty relics in museums, rare and expensive objets d’art from exclusive curio dealers, or, tragically, as cheap, undersized, shoddily made tourist souvenirs. The loss was doubly sad since each shield’s design elements, or sirata, revealed detailed information about its bearer’s clan and achievements, and thus represented a tangible record of Maasai history.

This loss seemed unacceptable to two elders in the Olkirimatian community of Kenya’s South Rift Valley. Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka—both former shield bearers now in their 70s—approached ConserVentures, our small non-profit that often donates resources for cultural conservation projects, with a plan: They wanted to put together a workshop to build new shields, using authentic techniques and materials, with the immediate goal of producing examples to be displayed in a planned Maasai heritage museum, and the secondary but much more vital goal of passing on their knowledge to a younger generation. Through the generosity of several donors, we arranged to source rawhide and supply food and transportation to the group, and to use the Lale’enok Resource Center as a base. John Kamanga, the chairman of the Olkirimatian community and a driving force for Maasai cultural conservation, was our liason as we worked on logistics from 7,000 miles away. The construction team comprised John’s father, Ntetiyian Ole Pasoi, two other elders, Sipale Mpoe and Marikete Ole Ilelempu, and four women, Rijano Ene Ntetiyian (John’s mother), Majakus Ene Saitage, Moyiangei Ene Sampao, and Bebi Ene Mugesa.

Over the course of five days in late October, Tonkei and Karinte supervised the group while we photographed and filmed the entire process. In that time, one cowhide (the only major concession to the 21st century, the original cape buffalo being no longer available since Kenya banned hunting), some goatskin, and a pile of limbs from a Cordia senensis tree magically morphed into two sturdy shields—a stiff rawhide face backed by a carved, tensioned center stay and handgrip, the perimeter laced with goatskin around flexible Cordia wands. Then, alchemist concoctions of charred bone, ocher, limestone, and cow’s blood (the latter amusingly stored in an old Famous Grouse whiskey bottle), dabbed and streaked on the shields with chewed twigs, blossomed into recreations of the original Olkirimatian sirata. The two senior elders eyed each line and color critically, and more than once sections were scraped off and re-painted to achieve the proper symmetry. Throughout the process, young Maasai men of the community hung around to watch or help, taking cell-phone photos and fueling our hopes that some might be inspired to take up the craft as a business—we believe there’d be a ready market for detailed and authentic Maasai shields as a counterpoint to the cheesy tourist rubbish.

To us the end products—as far as we know the first true Maasai shields produced in decades—seemed like priceless artifacts. Yet before the paint was dry Tonkei and another elder had grabbed them and set to in a fierce mock duel, leaping and yelling like the Morani they were 50 years earlier while we cheered wincingly from the sidelines.

The completed shields, not minus a few scuff marks, are now stored at the Lale’enok Resource Center. One will be taken to Nairobi to be used in educational programs; the other is destined for the planned cultural museum to be built at a nearby archaeological site, Olorgesailie.

That is, as long as Tonkei Ole Rimpaine and Karinte Ole Manka don’t decide to requisition them, grab a couple of spears, and head out to raid cattle and take some land back from the British.

* * *

51-shield making team at Okiramatian1-elders-shields2-cow3-kill4-skinning and bleeding5-blood
6-stretching hide7-pegging hide8-ash on hide9-rubbing hide10-audience11-burning bones for pigment
12-fire for bones13-bones burning14-grinding burned bones to powder15-powders mixed with milk16-blood ready to mix for pigment17-dried hide
18-hide buried in boma dung19-hide under dung20-gathering rib poles by river21-Cordia poles for frame22-Elder and youth23-roughing in main rib

Photo gallery (51 images): click here.

ConserVentures provided photography and videography services for this project, and will be producing books, posters, and film for the Maasai Cultural Heritage Program. You can learn more about the South Rift Association of Land Owners and their programs at www.soralo.org

The Jesuit final exam




I wasn’t lucky enough to know Reverend Anderson Bakewell, S. J. (Society of Jesus) before he died in 1999 at age 86. But my friend Steve Bodio knew him well and hunted with him.

Hunted? Yes—Bakewell was not your ordinary priest, even for a Jesuit. In the 1930s he collected reptiles and amphibians in Mexico and South America for the St. Louis Zoo (and had several of them named after him). In 1941 he climbed Mt. Wood in the St. Elias Range, at that time the highest unclimbed peak in North America. He went on to be the youngest member of H.W. Tilman’s attempt on Mt. Everest in 1950, the first from the south, which would prove Hillary’s and Norgay’s successful route three years later. In the meantime he earned a bachelor’s degree and did graduate work in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. Oh, and in 1942 he entered the Society of Jesus and did missionary work in India (where he helped prepare antivenom for snake bite treatment) and Alaska (where his parish comprised 35,000 square miles). And became a member of the Explorers Club along the way. And compiled a modest arsenal of fine weapons, including a .416 Rigby which a British officer friend got for him for $75 (they go for $20,000 today).


Bakewell in his Santa Fe home

Recently Bakewell’s biographer sent Steve a (presumably tongue-in-cheek) clip from a mid-80s Jesuit newsletter in his effects, titled “Jesuit Final Exam.” If you’re familiar with Heinlein’s classic “Specialization is for insects” quote from Time Enough for Love, this will strike you as sort of the same concept . . . on crack. Steve wonders whether, especially given the rifle reference, Bakewell might have had a heavy hand in concocting this.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit: four hours. Begin immediately.

HISTORY: Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially, but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific.

MEDICINE: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.

PUBLIC SPEAKING: Storming the classroom are 2500 riot-crazed aborigines. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

BIOLOGY: Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

MUSIC: Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. (You will find a piano under your seat).

PSYCHOLOGY: Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.

ENGINEERING: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

ECONOMICS: Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: cubism, the Donatist controversy, the wave theory of light. Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

POLITICAL SCIENCE: There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III. Report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.

EPISTEMOLOGY: Take a position for or against the truth. Prove the validity of your position.

PHYSICS: Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

PHILOSOPHY: Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.


I’ve occasionally mused on how many of Heinlein’s human skills I could claim (at last count I think I was pretty sure about 16, not counting of course “die gallantly,” which no one can claim until it actually happens). But the Jesuit list? Um . . . I could certainly assemble the rifle, even without the instructions. I have a rough concept of the development of human thought, and some pretty good theories as to the sociological problems that would accompany the end of the world.

And that’s about it.

Steve Bodio, left, and a 75-year-old Anderson Bakewell in Magdalena, New Mexico, in 1988

Land Cruisers of Baharia, Egypt

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Land Cruisers of Baharia, Egypt, a set on Flickr.


The oasis of Baharia, about five hours south of Cairo, is the gateway to the Western Deserts and a major hub for expedition services and vehicles.

While there during the Sykes-MacDougal Centennial Expedition in February 2012, we had heard there was a booming trade in all things Land Cruisers, but we were not prepared for the sheer numbers of every type of Land Cruiser imaginable—and then some!

There were plenty of new, expensive models, sure, but there were many custom amalgamations that sometimes boggled the mind. Apparently, to avoid the high import duties on any vehicle (new or used), canny Egyptian mechanics in Baharia started bringing in halves and quarters of Land Cruisers from Japan and elsewhere, and then reassembling them after arrival—duty-free.

These photos were taken in just one day plus part of a morning, not even a full 8 hours in the town during daylight. There were hundreds—literally six or seven out of 10 vehicles was a Land Cruiser. Almost all the images are snapshots, taken out the window as we drove or shot quickly while walking; there are a couple of non-Land Cruisers in there, just too interesting not to include.

Wildlife drama at Ravenrock

Hummingbird migration begins. by ConserVentures


The last week has seen a lot of wildlife drama at Ravenrock.

After a summer pretty much devoid of hummingbirds, two took up stations at our three feeders on Monday (a male black-chinned, and an immature Selasphorus—either a rufous or broad-tailed). On Wednesday two more had joined them, and on Friday morning four more, for a total of eight birds doing full-on battle all around the cottage. Most of them are very aggressive Selasphorus, with the black-chinned holding his own. These guys are so pumped up they even dive-bomb hapless butterflies, who get spun around in the hummer-jet-wash.

We put up a fourth feeder, and have gone from a consumption rate of about a cup a week (including Gila woodpeckers and nocturnal nectar-feeding bats) to two cups every 12 hours.

On the mammal front, we had some of the most fun coyote action we've ever had in the area. On our morning walk on Wednesday, just past the driveway on the road to the well, we spied a female white-tail trotting towards us in the desert scrub—her tail flying, and her mouth dripping with saliva. Very odd behavior. She was stopping, listening, and then started snorting the white-tail alarm whistle. Suddenly she bolted up toward the driveway, where we saw first one and then a second coyote. She dove straight at them, and chased one around and around a small tree. The coyotes had enough, and took off to the north. No doubt the young doe had a new fawn nearby, we've seen several already this year.

This morning early, while I was out doing some yard work, I heard a coyote yipping off to the west just below our hill, and caught movement down off the state road. Two, then three coyotes were dashing towards the house at full runs—normally they trot-walk. Then two more appeared, and it became clear these five were chasing a sixth coyote, who ran hell-for-leather straight up the hill and bulleted over our hill just behind our bird-feeding yard. The chasers stopped at the bottom of the hill. In the golden early morning light their pelts were gorgeous russet-and-brown, they were very stocky and healthy-looking coyotes. Seems like we've got two packs having a territory dispute perhaps, with our property in the middle of the contested ground.

Finally, it's not been quiet on the reptile front, either, though decidedly less dramatic. A lovely small desert tortoise kept me company at the clothesline on Wednesday, and also on our walk we passed this lovely horned lizard hunting ants just off the state road. He was so well-camoflaged we nearly stepped on him.




Happy 100th birthday, Julia Child


Julia Child once said the perfect meal was a thick juicy steak and a martini.

I offer up the perfect martini (the Vesper), in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth today.

Via the excellent blog, Why Evolution is True, here are some great links honoring her today as well:

New York Times has several article, including a summary of her contributionsby Julia Moskin and a nice remembrance by friend and co-chef Jacques Pepin. She was without question ad icon, and had an enormous influence on American cooking and dining. And of course she was hilarious in an unintentional way: gangly, awkward, and with that voice. She inspired several imitations, including Meryl Streep's wonderful portrayal in Julie and Julia (I loved the Julia parts, didn't like the Julie ones), and of course Dan Ackroyd's sanginary satire on Saturday Night Live.

I consider Julia Child to be one of the people who inspired me not only in the kitchen, but in life. She lived everything 110%, and had a wonderful and inspiring relationship with her husband, Paul. (One of the best gifts my wonderful husband gave me was a signed copy of From Julia Child's Kitchen.)

I worked my way through much of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it made me a much more competent cook, very comfortable in the kitchen and working with ingredients. I can whip up from memory now any of the basic sauces (all the variations of brown and white, from a good meat gravy to a lovely béchamel)—and I think of her every time I do.

I love her practical approach to everything, but above all the fact she was so true to food and its basic goodness. She eschewed fads and was quick to slay them in public. I also love that she had a very basic kitchen, no $20,000 super-charged 10-burner-equipped gleaming kitchen for her. You can see the kitchen she used her whole career, it's lovingly resurrected (the actual kitchen) in the Smithsonian in D.C.


Dung beetles, Sonoran Desert

Dung beetles, Sonoran Desert an iPhone video by ConserVentures on Flickr.

We frequently see dung beetles diligently working the cow droppings around Ravenrock. Earlier this spring we watched six beetles at one fresh cow patty, madly rolling up dung into perfect spheres and then surprisingly quickly pushing it away with their hind legs, usually two beetles to a ball.

But yesterday we found these two just outside the front door to our cottage—and were just enchanted.

I need to research what species of dung beetles are here in the Sonoran Desert; it's possible these 2 are in the genus Onthophagus. 

Has anyone seen any like this before? To describe them as "adorable" seems antithetical to a dung-harvesting insect, but it's true!